As I was recycling some of my old folders and papers, I came across an editorial I saved from 2011. Written by Gregory Rodriguez of the LA Times, he made two significant points in the article.
- First, he encourages us to become “double-minded,” that is, to learn and practice the skill of taking into account the feelings of another, of practicing empathy.
- Secondly, he notes that the way we can learn to develop our better selves is to follow the example of the poet, Matthew Arnold (no relation as far as I know) of 19th century England. Arnold encouraged people to engage with the arts, the humanities, and literature, especially with experiences that do not try to persuade people to a particular way of thinking. The pursuit of culture equaled the pursuit of the better self in Arnold’s mind. Rodriguez notes also that “great art and ideas can elevate us above pettiness and teach us empathy.”
What is Being “Double-Minded”?
I saved the article because I was caught by the idea of being “double-minded.” At first glance, double-minded sounded like someone who could not make up his or her mind, or maybe someone who is two-faced. But as I came to understand double-minded to mean empathy and walking in another’s shoes, it began to sound like a gospel value, just like the values of compassion, mercy, and justice. Consider for a moment, what was it like to be the leper or the tax collector in the gospel stories – the ones with whom no one wanted to associate? What gospel values were present in these stories? How were the leper and tax collector treated? In many of the gospel readings, Jesus took the time to engage with the ones considered “outsiders.” Can we learn to be “double-minded” by practicing empathy with those we may consider to be “outsiders” today?
How Do We Develop Our Better Selves?
Secondly, what about learning to become empathetic through the arts and humanities? Doesn’t that sound like a great idea? When we are totally engrossed in the art or the music or the story, don’t we naturally drop our guard and allow the “other” to enter our consciousness? Sometimes art invites us to take a different view of the story or the experience of another, which can be very helpful as we translate the experience to our own families and neighbors. Whether listening to beautiful music, reading a wonderful book, exploring an art museum, or sharing stories with those you love or with those you are meeting for the first time, our lives are enriched by the time we take to become our best selves so we can be the best neighbors possible.
As Dominicans of Peace we are invited every day to practice empathy and to engage in the arts for wholeness and wellbeing for ourselves and for building peaceful relationships. Any chance the Spirit might be inviting you to participate with us in this mission of learning and sharing God’s compassion in the world? If so, check us out by contacting one of our vocation ministers.
How are you developing your “double-mindedness?” Your empathy for others? What’s your most recent favorite piece of music or art or story which has broken you open to someone else’s story?
One final thought – Several of our Sisters and Associates also participate in the Dominican Institute for the Arts, a grassroots collaboration of Sisters, friars, laity and Associates of the Order of Preachers, who are committed to preaching through the Arts. Check out their website for some upcoming events, “Restoring Civility, Concert of Classical Music” March 26 in Oak Park, IL, and their national gathering, July 26-29, 2017 in Adrian, MI. The theme is “Response” explained by a quote by author Toni Morrison, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. This is how civilizations heal.”